“We will continue looking at new digital opportunities and trends, such as the metaverse.”
As mentioned in President von der Leyen’s State of the Union letter of intent, metaverse is one of the pressing challenges ahead of us.
Metaverse — a new form of virtual space — is springing everywhere.
Actually, not one but many metaverses are being developed, as a new generation of digital platforms offers possibilities for people to interact in completely innovative ways.
Not only for entertainment purposes, but also to work together, develop artistic creativity, do real-life simulations aimed at medical interventions, cultural preservation, environmental protection or disaster prevention and a lot more.
Our European way to foster the virtual worlds is threefold: people, technologies and infrastructure.
1. People: a metaverse centred on Europe’s values and rules
First, these metaverses operate in real-time, augmented or virtual reality and they cannot be reset or put on hold. They are becoming something akin to what for the ancient Greeks was the “Agora”: a public space, a new public “square” where the digital interactions already possible online have the potential to be amplified as never before.
This new virtual environment must embed European values from the outset. People should feel as safe in the virtual worlds as they do in the real one.
Private metaverses should develop based on interoperable standards and no single private player should hold the key to the public square or set its terms and conditions. Innovators and technologies should be allowed to thrive unhindered.
With the Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act (DMA), Europe has now strong and future-proof regulatory tools for the digital space.
We have also learned a lesson from this work: we will not witness a new Wild West or new private monopolies.
We intend to shape from the outset the development of truly safe and thriving metaverses.
Similarly to the European Bauhaus, we will launch a creative and interdisciplinary movement, aiming to develop standards, increase interoperability, maximising impact with the help of IT experts, regulatory experts citizens’ organisations and youth.
2. Shaping the metaverses by mastering technologies
Our ability to shape the metaverse will depend on our ability to master and develop cutting-edge technologies in Europe and build a sustainable ecosystem.
The metaverse is building on various blocks and technologies (software, platforms, middleware, 5G, HPC, clouds, etc.).
Europe has strong assets in this area: our research and innovation for middleware and software, and our skilled workers and researchers. We also have the competitive advantage of content with our large cultural and language diversity and our thriving gaming sector.
Immersive technologies and virtual reality are at the heart of this phenomenon. An ecosystem is already growing throughout Europe: in Italy, Latvia, France, Germany, Finland and elsewhere, made of big players as well as innovative SMEs.
The Commission has been laying the groundwork to structure this ecosystem.
Today, I am happy to launch the Virtual and Augmented Reality Industrial Coalition, bringing together stakeholders from key metaverse technologies. We have developed a roadmap endorsed by over 40 EU organisations active in this space, from large organisations to SMEs, and universities.
Europe is also investing in research and breakthrough technologies underpinning the metaverse in fields, such as photonics, semiconductors or new materials. The European Chips Act will boost hardware development and production in Europe.
The next step will be a quantum leap from current virtual reality and other enabling technologies to a world that truly blends the real with the virtual.
It requires that we pool together EU, national and private funding.
3. A resilient connectivity infrastructure
Third, in the new virtual spaces, the amount of data being exchanged – and harvested – through these technologies will be of greater magnitude than ever. Completely virtual commercial transactions are growing rapidly and will include new payment systems (digital, crypto or traditional) and forms of identification and ownership (unique identifiers, NFTs and blockchain).
The new virtual worlds will put under even more intense pressure the connectivity infrastructure which is needed to allow all these developments to happen.
The current situation, exacerbated during the Covid pandemic, shows a paradox of increasing volumes of data being carried on the infrastructures but decreasing revenues and appetite to invest to strengthen them and make them resilient. The current economic climate sees stagnating rewards for investment and increasing deployment costs for pure connectivity infrastructure.
In Europe, all market players benefiting from the digital transformation should make a fair and proportionate contribution to public goods, services and infrastructures, for the benefit of all Europeans.
We will launch a comprehensive reflection and consultation on the vision and business model of the infrastructure that we need to carry the volumes of data and the instant and continuous interactions which will happen in the metaverses.
We are ready to roll out our European ambition.